The Frontline Supervisor’s Role in Leading Change | SOS Podcast

The Frontline Supervisor’s Role in Leading Change | SOS Podcast

The rate of change organizations face has grown over the past decade.  Most subject matter experts agree this trend will only increase with time.  In this episode, podcast host Joe White highlights the role frontline supervisors have in leading change.  In addition, he provides several recommendations for getting needed buy-in and support for change to succeed.






The SoS podcast is a production of AEU LEAD, an organization redefining how mid and frontline managers are developed.

Joe White:
Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Joe White, and this is the Supervisor Skills: Secrets of Success podcast. Today's episode is the 12th of season three and is our 40th since launching the series in March 2021. With a release date of October 17th, it involves a timely subject matter related to annual performance reviews and pre-planning discussions now underway. Our topic today is change management. For the purposes of our discussion, and as a matter of clarification, our conversation will focus on the role frontline supervisors have in leading change initiatives at a shop floor or job site level. The role of executive leadership in bringing about organizational transformation is important. It shares little in common, however, with the role operational managers must fulfill to successfully implement and integrate change to practice. This is a commonly overlooked nuance regarding roles and change management, and I hope to clarify in this episode. That said, let's jump right into it.

Change is inevitable. Growth, improvement, or success as a result of it are not. Odd change management is an umbrella term describing the process used by individuals and organizations to transition from a current to a desired future state. For organizations, it starts at the top with a vision created in response to recognized or anticipated needs. Transformation culminates on the shop floor, where change initiatives must ultimately be accepted and adopted to practice. The intermediate step between launching and landing change initiatives involves implementation. Where senior executives initiate change that employees must ultimately accept, frontline supervisors are responsible for integration and results. While change management initiatives are increasingly more common, success involving them, however, is not. On average, change initiatives succeed roughly three out of 10 times. Even more telling, when frontline resources aren't involved in the process, the rate of success drops to just 3%.

The secret of success to leading change on the shop floor or job site involves getting needed buy-in and support from key stakeholders. Those impacted by change are those responsible for making it happen. It's a byproduct of influence, not authority. It also involves skills that can be learned and a process that can be codified and practiced. For those wanting to learn more, here are five suggestions for consideration.


1. Understand the business case. 

Businesses typically don't take on change for the sake of change. Organizational transformation takes place when the business environment demands it, whether it's shifting markets, consumer preferences, disruptive supply chains, or something completely different. Companies pursue greener pastures when those they're in no longer meet their current or anticipated future needs. As a supervisor, you need to understand the business case and must develop comfort speaking to it.


2. Internalize you "why." 

As pointed out by Simon Sinek, great leaders inspire action by focusing on the why. His words are more than intuition or insight. They're supported by science. For change initiatives to have any hope of success, employees must understand and internalize why change is needed. If you don't have a "why" that you're bought into, you have no chance of selling it to others.


3. Prepare talking points. 

One of the first steps in effective communication is getting clarity involving desired outcomes resulting from it. As an advocate for change, you must get shop floor-level support for the potential benefits resulting from the needed transition. This involves sharing the business case for it and the consequences of maintaining status quo. One of the most fundamental and important stages of the transformation process, getting buy-in on the front end is a key to success on the back end. Focus on the business case, share your why, and seek support based on the need.


4. Gain alignment. 

With an understanding and agreement involving the benefits of needed change, the next phase of the process entails gaining alignment on the path forward. The shift in strategy requires connecting the why to the how. Employees need to know and understand how the transition will occur and, equally as important, how they'll be impacted as a result of it. During the stage of the change management process, resistance and opposition can and should be expected. Where possible, allow an opportunity for input and involvement from key stakeholders. Most importantly, follow up on all questions in a timely manner to ensure the maximum level of support at the point where it matters most.


5. Convey clear expectations. 

The third leg in the outline change management process for frontline supervisors involves conveying clear expectations. This is all about the "what" exactly do you need from whom by when. This level of detail is critical to achieving desired outcomes and is an essential component to successful change initiatives. In passing along expectations, it's important to identify needs involving procedural updates and qualification criteria, especially where changes impact conditions or standard work practices.

Change is inevitable. The consequences of it can be detrimental or instrumental to an organization's future success. Those most capable of harnessing the forces of change, most purposefully, will be those most likely to succeed in the years ahead. While vision, direction, and strategic positioning come from the top, it's the frontline supervisor that implements and integrates needed change to practice. Do everything you can to prepare yourself for this role, as the opportunities to lead change will only increase with time.

Thank you for joining us. It's my sincere hope you found benefit in our discussion today. For those now identifying improvement opportunities for the upcoming year, the steps outlined can be used for the buy-in, support, and commitment needed for growth to occur. Our next podcast is scheduled for release on November 7th. For that episode, we'll be discussing personal and professional growth and development. Should you have any questions or need additional information regarding today's topic, just let us know. Our contact information is provided in the show notes accompanying this episode. And for those that may not have reviewed or rated your experience with our show, we would greatly appreciate you doing so. That's it for now. Stay safe, and thanks for listening.



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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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